Filed by Gentry Estes
So there’s hope after all.
The United States followed perhaps its worst performance in a decade with one of its best. Coming out determined and angry, the U.S. simply outplayed one of the world’s top teams for most of today’s bloody, physical 1-1 draw.
Italy’s saving grace came with a clueless referee, who ejected a total of three players —; two Americans —; and disallowed a second half goal by DeMarcus Beasley that would have been the first in World Cup history by a team down to nine players.
Now, I understand the American sports psyche of not celebrating a tie, but there are so many positives in the U.S. standing toe-to-toe with mighty Italy despite playing most of the second half a man down. This country’s squad finally lived up to the hype and had one of the world’s best on the ropes.
There’s actually frustration in the fact the U.S. should have won. The underdogs dictated tempo and were the better team for most of the game. If it ended with an even number of players on both sides, it’s hard to say the Americans wouldn’t have found a second goal.
Heck, they almost got one anyway.
Brian McBride missed a golden scoring opportunity. Then came Beasley’s goal, which was waved off because McBride screened the goalkeeper. Like hockey, that’s part of the sport, and it’s a rule that’s rarely called in world-class soccer. It’s similar to a game-winning touchdown being called back on a sideline violation.
For the briefest of moments, ABC put a “2” by USA on its scoreboard, only to take it back. Moments as these can make you hate soccer.
You can’t blame the referee. He was awful for both sides (How many offsides calls against Italy were legit?), but it’s disheartening that such a good performance goes fruitless because an official felt the need to take over the match.
Yet make no mistake, if you’re a U.S. soccer fan, this was a good day. As much as some may complain about not winning, this result surely won’t go down well among the Italians. There’s no excuse for a team as talented and stocked as Italy to not punish an opponent carrying two red cards.
And the draw wasn’t even the best news for the U.S. team Saturday. Ghana’s stunning 2-0 whitewash of an unprepared Czech Republic leaves the Americans a reasonable shot to qualify Thursday as one of the top two teams in Group E.
Despite Saturday’s upset, Ghana is easily the most beatable of the three teams in the group. Italy will be motivated by Saturday’s failure and must play for a victory against the Czech Republic to assure its own advancement. If Italy can edge a wounded, tired, aging Czech team and the U.S. beats Ghana, the Americans would sneak back into the Round of 16.
After Monday, who would have thought it possible?
E-mail Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org